Why the holy month may just change the way you see Abu Dhabi

This time of year provides an opportunity to appreciate the city and wider Arabian culture

Abu Dhabi takes on a nocturnal flavour during Ramadan. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Abu Dhabi takes on a nocturnal flavour during Ramadan. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

There are two ways to handle Ramadan: you either fight it or embrace it. And that doesn’t apply to just the spiritual rigours of the holy month, it also refers to life in Abu Dhabi.

One of the many blessings of this time of year, if you are an observer or not, is that it shakes us out of our normal routines. Day becomes night, so to speak: where before our leisure activities can be spread throughout the course of a day, Ramadan boils it all down to the evening hours, when everyone can partake in the fun.

This means that Abu Dhabi truly becomes a city of the night. From the extended hours of shopping malls and the 1am film screenings to feasts at 3am, the capital takes on a charm of its own. It is for this reason that I fully embrace it and, during Ramadan, I become a night owl.

You can now find me wandering around during the week at 1am or catching up with friends for “dinner” at 2am at some of the Ramadan tents. I love it and, judging by the many smiling faces I encounter each evening, I’m not alone. The change in working hours provides us with a break from the daily grind and I suspect there is a certain amount of glee – similar to children staying up way past their bedtime – that infects all of us.

For a city that is becoming increasingly globalised, Abu Dhabi rediscovers its true Arabia roots during Ramadan. We can hear that, quite literally, in the daily sounds of the cannon that is fired simultaneously from both the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and Qasr Al Hosn to signal breaking of the fast.

Watching this momentous event last week I realised I was sampling a slice of UAE history. Dating as far back as the 1930s, when mosques were not equipped with loudspeakers, cannon were used as a way to signal that it was time to break bread.

The beauty and blessed properties of the Arabic language are another aspect of this region’s culture and heritage that’s celebrated during the month, not only in the nightly taraweeh prayers, but also in the range of Quran competitions that are held, featuring some of the best reciters from the UAE and the Arab world.

Middle Eastern arts and storytelling also take centre stage during Ramadan. Where outside of the holy month an oud player would only receive a passing glance while they performed in the odd hotel lobby, now they become the stars of the show in many of the city’s Ramadan tents. I realised this last Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi’s suhoor venue, where their talented musician commanded the attention of a captive, enraptured audience.

Of course, as soon as you turn on the television, too, there is the array of Arabic dramas that fills our screens during the month. While critics are partly right in viewing some of the programmes as mindless, there are a few that are superbly written and produced, and these act as a reminder that we have our own stories to tell from the region. A great example is P.O. Box 1003, which is screened nightly on the Al Emarat channel. Based on the novel by Abu Dhabi Poetry Academy manager Sultan Al Amimi, the story sheds light on life in the UAE and Abu Dhabi in the 1980s. I hope the broadcasters will consider re-releasing the series with English subtitles in the future.

With all that culture on offer for a limited amount of time, I suggest we all experience the best this month has to offer. Not only can it move you spiritually, but also provides you with a better understanding of this city we call home.

Updated: May 10, 2019 10:57 AM


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